Reformation and Politics—
Support and Resistance
Even following the Peasants' War, there was no way that the Reformation could have been unrelated to any aspect of politics. The reorganization of the church, the controversies with Erasmus, the Swiss, and the south Germans—along with those with the Anabaptists and the constant one with the Catholics—each had political components, as did the continuing spread of the Reformation and the resistance it encountered. Even more than before, the Reformation—and this meant primarily the enforcement or nonenforcement of the Edict of Worms against Luther and his supporters—now became one of the primary themes of imperial politics. Conversely, the foreign threat posed by the Turks was also significant for religion and politics. Although Luther held no political office, he constantly had to take a stand on these matters not just theologically, but also in a way that was relevant politically, for religion and politics could not be separated. In his political decisions he was almost always guided by his theology, which was itself a political factor, as it had been before. It is thus appropriate first to present the theological principles of Luther's political decisions.
Again and again in his sermons and lectures, Luther impressed upon his hearers the necessity of the office of government, and the obedience of its subjects that was demanded of Christians. Along with the office of the ministry, government is one of the means by which God guides the world, and at times he even gives charismatic discernment to those filling these offices. Government has the obligation to put down the "riffraff' by force. If the world were righteous, there would be no need of emperors, princes, and burgomasters. This was the distinction between the temporal realm with its use of force and the spiritual realm of the gospel. He emphasized this difference over and over again. Luther's rejection of rebellion as a destruction of political order did not change this. One had to take action against rebels. Princes had the difficult obligation of preserving peace, and their subjects often did not value that task highly enough.1